Brad Evans saved the United States from another deflating World Cup qualifier on the road.
Jermaine Beckford tied the score in the 89th minute as the American defense again stumbled on a restart. But Evans scored an unlikely goal in the second minute of second-half stoppage time, giving the U.S. a thrilling 2-1 win over Jamaica at Kingston on Friday night that solidified the Americans’ chances of qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
“It was a totally blind shot,” Evans said. “The only thing in my mind was turn and shoot. That was it.”
Jozy Altidore scored for the second straight game, putting the Americans ahead in the 30th minute with a header off Graham Zusi’s cross. They had scored the first goal in four of five previous road qualifiers under coach Jurgen Klinsmann but were only 1-2-1 in those matches.
It looked as if they would drop points again when an unmarked Beckford beat goalkeeper Tim Howard with a close-range header from Rodolph Austin’s 40-yard free kick. In wasting an early lead during a semifinal-round loss at Jamaica last September, the U.S. allowed both goals off corner kicks.
But just over a minute into four minutes of stoppage time, Michael Bradley quickly played an American corner kick short to Zusi. He gave the ball right back, and Bradley faked around Alvas Powell and slid a left-footed shot to Evans.
Evans had his back to the goal with Beckford, O’Brian Woodbine and Daniel Gordon about 5 yards from him when he stopped the ball with his left foot. He then turned and kicked the ball with his right foot over goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts from about 8 yards, a shot that may have taken a slight deflection of the sliding Woodbine.
“Pure elation after the goal, for sure,” said Evans, who received a yellow card for pulling his jersey over his head. “I had no idea it was stoppage time.”
It was the first goal in 10 international appearances for Evans, a midfielder starting at right back. Evans got the start because Steve Cherundolo is resting after a knee injury sidelined him from December to April, and Timmy Chandler tore a left knee ligament last month.
“It makes traveling a little easier,” Klinsmann said. “What’s important is that this team now gets more and more the mentality to bounce back and to kind challenge themselves to win here, not to look for a tie. We said that from the beginning, we are ready now to come into a difficult place like Kingston and say we want the three points.”
Starting a stretch of three qualifiers in 12 days, the U.S. (2-1-1) improved to seven points in the 10-game final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, trailing Costa Rica (2-1-1) on goal difference and ahead of Mexico (1-0-4) on goals scored. Costa Rico won 1-0 at home against Honduras on a goal by the New York Red Bulls’ Roy Miller, and Mexico tied 0-0 at Panama (1-0-3), which has six points.
Honduras (1-2-1) has four points and the Reggae Boyz (0-3-2) have two, with little chance of reaching next year’s tournament in Brazil.
“We are obviously disappointed,” Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore said.
The Americans host Panama on Tuesday on Evans’ home field with the Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, then play Honduras on June 18 at Sandy, Utah. The top three nations qualify for next year’s 32-nation tournament in Brazil, and the No. 4 team meets New Zealand in a playoff for another berth.
“The script couldn’t have been better with Brad Evans then, going out to Seattle,” Klinsmann said.
Coaching his 28th game since taking over from Bob Bradley in July 2011, Klinsmann started the same lineup in consecutive matches for the first time with the U.S. But three in a row won’t happen.
Jermaine Jones, the tough American midfielder, sustained a concussion when elbowed by Gordon during a corner-kick scramble early in the 56th minute, and Altidore walked off gingerly in the 83rd minute and pointed to his left hamstring. Zusi was given a caution for his foul 40 yards out that led to Austin’s free kick and Jamaica’s goal, and he will be suspended Tuesday for yellow-card accumulation.
Bradley nearly scored in the second minute, sending a 20-yard right-footed shot off the post to the right of Ricketts.
Altidore’s goal came after Zusi streaked down the right side and got by Woodbine. Altidore split Gordon and Powell and beat Ricketts with a header from just inside the 6-yard box.
It was the 15th goal in 58 appearances for Altidore, who combined with Zusi on the first goal in Sunday’s 4-3 exhibition win over Germany at Washington, D.C., Altidore’s first goal for the national team since November 2011.
Austin hit a post to Howard’s right in the 39th.
The U.S. had been 0-4-1 in qualifiers at The Office, as Kingston’s stadium is known.
“It’s a very, very difficult place to come in,” Klinsmann said. “They gave us a real fight.”